Sunday, February 01, 2015

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Planned to perfection

Let’s face it. Jon Lester was never coming back to Boston.

The Red Sox will tell you they were outbid. Lester will tell you he felt disrespected with the team’s initial offer in the spring.

But this goes deeper than that. And both sides are to blame.

On July 31, Jon Lester was traded to the Oakland Athletics. At that point in time, it was strictly business. All-Star pitcher, contract year, no agreement on a new deal. You can’t let that player walk away and receive nothing in return.

So the Red Sox sent Lester — along with Jonny Gomes — to the A’s in exchange for slugger Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick.

On the way out, Lester said all the right things. He thanked Red Sox Nation. He even kept the door open to returning to Boston as a free agent.

From there, theories ran wild: Lester and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington were in cahoots. The Sox’ ace knew his team needed offense, so he agreed to the trade, all while knowing he’d come crawling back to Fenway on his self-proclaimed hometown discount.

Meanwhile, back here in the real world, the only person Lester had a plan with was his agent. And a brilliant plan it was.

Late Tuesday night, Lester chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs. The deal is worth $155 million over six years, with a $25 million vesting option for a seventh year if he pitches 200 innings in 2020 or 400 innings in 2019 and 2020 combined. It also includes a full no-trade clause, and access to 25 hours of personal flights on a private jet per year.

From a business standpoint, Lester and his agent absolutely crushed it. And, in general, how can you be mad at them for that? You only get one chance to go into free agency at the age of 30 (he’ll turn 31 in January) and be the talk of the town at the Winter Meetings.

The first four days in San Diego this week were known as “The Jon Lester Meetings.” And if you’re Lester, how cool is that? You spend your entire career to get that one opportunity to be stuck in the middle of a bidding war for your services. It’s a position of power that every professional athlete dreams of one day being in.

But it’s only a position you can be in if you choose to test the free agent market.

In the days leading up to last season’s trade deadline, that was indeed Lester’s choice, which was why he finished the year in an Oakland A’s uniform.

I will never knock someone for wanting to test free agency. It’s their right. And Lester, in this case, earned every penny he eventually received from the Cubs.

But while former Sox GM Theo Epstein introduces his new pitcher in Chicago this week, back here in Boston, someone will get the blame for why that press conference isn’t happening at Fenway.

And early indications don’t favor Red Sox brass.

Those strictly pointing the finger at Sox ownership are hung up on Boston’s original offer of $70 million over four years back in March. It was an offer that came just two months after Lester publicly and adamantly declared that he would accept a hometown discount.

During that January meeting with the media at the Boston Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards dinner, Lester even went as far as to point out Dustin Pedroia’s decision to “leave a lot of money on the table” with his latest contract to stay in Boston.

Pedroia signed a seven-year, $100 million extension in July of 2013. It should be noted that the starting-pitching market is much different than the second-base market. Still, the point was made, and Lester’s message was clear.

“I want to be here until they have to rip this jersey off my back,” said the Red Sox ace during that media session in January.

Lester also acknowledged 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-year, $155 million contract with the New York Yankees. So he was well aware of his upcoming market value, at the time.

And while proclaiming his willingness to take a hometown discount, Lester also pointed out the responsibility he had to the Players Union.

“You never want to be the guy that takes the market backwards,” he said.

But once again, Lester seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to get his $155 million over seven years with the Red Sox — which, keep in mind, comes out to $22 million a year.

“I understand, that, to stay here [in Boston], you’re not going to get a free-agent deal,” he said in January. “You’re not going to do it. You can’t. It’s not possible. You’re bidding against one team. I understand that you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.”

Lester followed that up by saying, “But just like [the Red Sox] want it to be fair for them, I want it to be fair for me and my family.”

Fair enough.

But what is fair for Lester and his family is market value, something he admitted wouldn’t come from the Red Sox.

What happened next was a spring-training offer of four years at $70 million. Fast forward to December, and it’s that initial offer which reportedly forced Lester to refuse to negotiate until the offseason.

Somewhere in between, business was business, and Lester was traded to Oakland.

Now, the perception is that, at some point early on, business got personal, at least, from Lester’s standpoint.

Most in Boston can’t get over the initial four-year, $70 million offer — which, keep in mind, comes out to $17.5 million a year. Between fans and media, many pointing the finger solely at the Red Sox for not bringing Jon Lester back are caught up in the organization’s “disrespectful” start to what was supposed to be an exclusive contract negotiation.

All the while, I’ve been sitting here since April trying to figure out why Lester and his agent refused to negotiate all season long.

So, just to clarify, one initial offer makes you feel disrespected to the point where you won’t even negotiate?

Ok. Fine. April, May, into mid-June . . . still upset. I get it. You were willing to take a hometown discount, and then you get that offer to start things off. Not what you were looking for. Frustration is completely expected.

But then July rolls along, your team is out of the playoff race, the trade deadline is nearing, your GM once again approaches you about getting to the negotiation table, and you still say no?

“We certainly had a desire to engage on a contract conversation with him and that conversation didn't happen enough for whatever reason,” said Cherington in his post-trade deadline press conference on July 31.

“As we got deeper into the season, [Lester] made it clear that that wasn't something he wanted to focus on right now, and so we honored that desire on his part. And I had a conversation with Jon about how we respected that position, but because of the performance of the team, that meant we both might have to deal with this possibility [of a trade].

“If the team's performance didn't really improve, that meant teams were going to start calling on him and it was something we were going to have to deal with,” added Cherington. “We both knew about that possibility going into this week because we had talked about it. It was a combination of the team's performance and his desire not to focus on his contract right now, which we respect his reasons for.”

At that point, it became clear to me then that Lester wasn’t doing much to live up to his “rip the jersey off my back” comment.

I mean, if you want to be somewhere as bad as Lester expressed he wanted to stay in Boston, wouldn’t you at least get in a room and try to work it out?

One day after Lester signed with the Cubs, Cherington once again discussed his attempts to negotiate with Lester before he had no choice but to trade him.

“I believe there’s no deal that can happen unless you’re able to get in a room and talk about it,” said the Red Sox GM at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday. “You might agree, you might disagree, you might go back and forth. But the only way to actually get to a deal is to be able to get in a room and talk about it. I wish we had been able to do that more.”

And when asked if trading Lester hurt Boston’s chances of re-signing him this offseason, Cherington began his answer by saying, “Remember, we hadn’t been able to have any kind of constructive dialogue about a contract in spring training or during the season.”

Speaking as someone who wanted Lester to remain with the Red Sox long-term, I’ve never been too caught up with the initial offer in spring training.

I never even wanted them to trade Lester, and expressed such, at the time he was dealt. My theory is, if you like a dominant pitcher, don’t trade him. Re-sign him.

But then when I found out that Lester wouldn’t even have the discussion — even when his whole “focusing on the season” excuse made no sense while the Sox were out of the playoff race — I realized that Cherington did what he had to do. He resorted to business. And at that point, if you’re not going to re-sign Lester, then it’s a good business decision to get something for him.

Cherington is right. No contract in the history of professional sports has ever been agreed to if you don’t get in a room and work it out.

It takes two sides to make a deal. And as much as Lester’s side may have felt slighted by the team’s initial offer, he certainly didn’t sound like a guy — in January — who was going to let one bad offer prevent him from discussing the subject at all, even when it came time to rip the jersey off his back at the trade deadline.

When deciphering who to blame in this mess, I just can’t seem to get over the fact that Lester wouldn’t negotiate with the Red Sox until the offseason.

But perhaps that was his plan all along.

In January, Lester admitted to knowing he wouldn’t receive market value from the Red Sox while in exclusive negotiations with them.

Let’s look at what he said again: “I understand, that, to stay here [in Boston], you’re not going to get a free-agent deal. You’re not going to do it. You can’t. It’s not possible. You’re bidding against one team. I understand that you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.”

Of course, saying you’ll take a discount is one thing. Actually going through with it is another.

The only way to avoid that discount was to test free agency in the offseason.

So while some look at Boston’s initial four-year, $70 million offer as a slap in the face, turns out, it was actually the best thing that ever happened to Lester and his agent.

Not only did it lead to a six-year, $155 million deal in the offseason, but it also gave Lester an opportunity to save face in Boston when he refused to take that hometown discount of $135 million over six years — which was the Red Sox’ final offer this offseason.

Now, Lester’s not the bad guy. He shouted “hometown discount,” refused to negotiate on the claims of being disrespected by an initial offer, got caught up in a bidding war that all of baseball was watching, and then signed the second-largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history.

Back here in Boston, most of the blame is being thrown at the Red Sox.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted them to pony up the money for Lester. This team needs pitching. And I’m much more comfortable with a guy who we know can dominate in this city. Do everything you can to bring “that guy” back, instead of taking a chance with someone who isn’t proven in this market.

For that, I’m not letting the Red Sox off the hook. Not for a second.

They have the money to spend, and they should be more than willing to spend it on someone like Lester. But as we know — and even as Lester pointed out to us back in January — the Red Sox put value on certain players, whether it’s fair within the market or not.

Those pointing the finger solely at the Red Sox will try to convince us that Lester would have accepted a five-year, $110 million deal in the spring — which comes out to $22 million a year — had it been offered instead of an insulting initial offer worth $40 million less than that.

It’s the overwhelming opinion which they’ve turned into a fact: that Lester would’ve signed his $110 million deal and all would have been right in Boston, had it been offered.


What’s that based on, what Lester told people?

If I’m going to believe that, I’d have to believe Lester. And while I’m one of his biggest fans, I can’t ignore the fact that he wouldn’t give the same effort to stay in Boston that he once led us to believe he would, back in January.

You can’t convince me that he was going to accept anything less than market value from the Red Sox in the spring. You just can’t do it. I don’t care what Lester is telling people.

Because walking away and refusing to negotiate for an entire season after one bad initial offer, with a team that was going to have to rip the jersey off his back, makes less sense than the initial offer itself.

It was all part of the plan. And the Red Sox were used as Lester’s biggest bargaining chip. He kept that “love for the city” and “willingness to return” in his back pocket until Epstein went to $155 million and threw in a full no-trade clause to go along with 150 total hours of private flights. All while everyone back in Boston felt bad for the guy who was “disrespected.”

That plan started with a potential hometown discount. It ended with the second-largest pitching contract in the history of the game.

Believe what you want. But Jon Lester was never coming back to Boston.

And both sides are to blame.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014-15 NBA Predictions

Superstars rule the NBA, and championships are won with multiple superstars, so, it would only be fitting that the Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites to win the 2015 NBA Championship

It's a sign of the times. Superstar player joins team, then attracts other superstar players to join forces. There's not much parity in the NBA when it comes to legitimate championship contenders. And I expect teams like the Cavaliers to prove that once again this year.

In their case, LeBron James decided to break his bond with the Miami Heat and return home to Cleveland. As a result, Kevin Love's trade demands, combined with the intrigue of playing with James, also led him to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers are just one of a handful of teams that I feel have a legitimate shot to win it all this season. Also on the radar (according to Vegas) are the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

The Indiana Pacers won't be able to keep up without Paul George for the entire season. And to be completely honest, the more I think about it, I'm not even sure I feel too comfortable calling the Thunder a "legitimate" contender this year. Sure, Kevin Durant is expected to only miss the first two months of the regular season after having foot surgery last week. But he's already telling the media that he's "not going to rush" his return to the lineup.

When you take into account that Durant just turned 26 and is up for a new contract after next season, just how long does "not rushing" mean? And listen, I wouldn't blame him if he missed more than two months in order to look out for himself. Do what you have to do, big dog. I'm just pointing out that the two-month timetable seems somewhat unrealistic, based on the factors I previously mentioned.

Speaking of questionable timetables, it would seem that Derrick Rose is past his injury issues, at least for now. Rose has missed the last two seasons with serious knee injuries. But his renewed explosiveness, along with the addition of Pau Gasol, could possibly give the Chicago Bulls the juice they need to finally live up to the hype that's been hanging over their heads in recent years.

You want a couple sleepers, outside my handful of "contenders?" I'm waiting for the Golden State Warriors to make a serious playoff run with the type of shooting they have in their backcourt. I would assume that as this season goes on, the Warriors will be happy they didn't trade Klay Thompson in the offseason.

Also on my sleeper list this year is the Houston Rockets. I'm one of the biggest Dwight Howard haters out there, but I have a feeling that Houston is somehow going to land Rajon Rondo during the season, if Rondo is traded during the final year of his current contract.

If that happens, Rondo gives the Rockets the type of distributor and floor general that can allow to James Harden to focus strictly on scoring and defense.

After all, championships are won with multiple superstar players. If Houston can land someone like Rondo, I wouldn't be shocked if they made a crazy playoff run.

But would they have enough to win it all?

Here are my 2014-15 NBA predictions:

Atlantic Division: Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks
Central Division: Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls,
Southeast Division: Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

Northwest Division: Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder
Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers
Southwest Division: San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers over (8) New York Knicks
(4) Chicago Bulls over (5) Washington Wizards
(6) Charlotte Hornets over (3) Brooklyn Nets
(2) Miami Heat over (7) Toronto Raptors

Western Conference Quarterfinals:
(1) San Antonio Spurs over (8) Dallas Mavericks
(4) Houston Rockets over (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
(3) Golden State Warriors over (6) Los Angeles Clippers
(2) Portland Trail Blazers over (7) Los Angeles Lakers

Eastern Conference Semifinals:
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers over (4) Chicago Bulls
(6) Charlotte Hornets over (2) Miami Heat

Western Conference Semifinals:
(4) Houston Rockets over (1) San Antonio Spurs
(3) Golden State Warriors over (2) Portland Trail Blazers

Eastern Conference Final:
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers over (6) Charlotte Hornets

Western Conference Final:
(4) Houston Rockets over (3) Golden State Warriors

Cleveland Cavaliers over Houston Rockets

Monday, October 06, 2014

2014-15 NHL Predictions

In the last five years, only three teams have won the Stanley Cup: he Los Angeles Kings won two, the Chicago Blackhawks won two, and the Boston Bruins won the other

There's nothing new that tells me those three teams won't once again be contenders to hoist the Cup next summer. But if I had to put my money on it, I wouldn't bet the Kings to repeat as champs. Fo no reason other than the fact that the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win, in any sport, never mind repeat.

We saw that first-hand, after the Bruins won the Cup in 2011. The Cup hangover is real. there's no denying that. As a reporter at the time for Comcast Sportsnet New England, I can recall Shawn Thornton telling me that the following season, in 2011-12, felt like an extension of the championship 2010-11 season.

"It felt like a baseball season," said Thornton.

Baseball plays 162 games. In the NHL, there are 82. The year after the Bruins won the Cup, they lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, in seven games.

Long story short, they just ran out of gas.

As to what point the Kings will run out of gas this season, remains to be seen. But after winning the Cup last year -- their second in three years -- I expect them to be watching someone else hoist la Coupe when it's all said and done.

If the trend of the last five years continues, one would have to consider the Blackhawks and Bruins as favorites to win it all again. In the days leading into the beginning of the regular season, the Blackhawks were the overall favorites, at 13/2. After that was the Anaheim Ducks at 10/1, the Bruins at 10/1, the Kings at 10/1, and the Pittsburgh Penguins at 12/1.

And that would be the moment when you remember the Penguins still exist, and that Sidney Crosby is the reigning league MVP. If there's any team entering this season that would be capable of crashing the Stanley Cup party, it would be the team with the best player in the world.

But will they?

Here are my 2014-15 NHL Predictions:

Atlantic Division: Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins
Metropolitan Division: Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets
Wild Card: Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers

Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche
Pacific Division: Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks
Wild Card: Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals:
(1) Montreal Canadiens over (4) Toronto Maple Leafs
(3) Boston Bruins over (2) Detroit Red Wings

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins over (4) New York Rangers
(2) Washington Capitals over (3) Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference Quarterfinals:
(1) Chicago Blackhawks over (4) San Jose Sharks
(3) Colorado Avalanche over (2) St. Louis Blues

(1) Los Angeles Kings over (4) Phoenix Coyotes
(2) Anaheim Ducks over (3) Vancouver Canucks

Eastern Conference Semifinals:
(3) Boston Bruins over (1) Montreal Canadiens
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins over (2) Washington Capitals

Western Conference Semifinals:
(3) Colorado Avalanche over (1) Chicago Blackhawks
(2) Anaheim Ducks over (1) Los Angeles Kings

Eastern Conference Final:
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins over (3) Boston Bruins

Western Conference Final:
(3) Colorado Avalanche over (2) Anaheim Ducks

Stanley Cup Final:
Pittsburgh Penguins over Colorado Avalanche

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Look out for those A's

Jon Lester and the Oakland Athletics will be the most dangerous team in the postseason, if they can get by the Kansas City Royals in Tuesday night's Wild Card game

The regular season is in the books. Now that we know who's in and who's out, here are my 2014 MLB Postseason predictions:

--Oakland Athletics over Kansas City Royals
Had I known the A's would trade for both Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester this season, I would have most certainly put them into the postseason mix in my preseason predictions. Lester goes for Oakland in the "play-in" game. Since being traded from Boston, Lester's posted a 2.35 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 76.2 innings. And we know he's a big-game pitcher. But he'll go up against another big-game pitcher in James Shields. In fact, that's his freakin' nickname, "Big Game" James Shields. It should also be mentioned that both Lester and Shields will be free agents this offseason. So, expect a pitcher's duel. I'll put my money on the A's though. Shields enters the game with a 4.98 postseason ERA, while Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances. And oh yeah, Lester has been downright dominant against the Royals, as he's 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA against them. That includes his 3-0 record with a 2.61 ERA against Kansas City this year. I can't possibly bet against that. And with Oakland's absolutely stacked rotation, they'll have one message for the rest of the league: "Don't let us win the Wild Card game."

--San Francisco Giants over Pittsburgh Pirates
A lot has been made of the Pirates attempting to win the division by throwing Gerrit Cole in the team's final regular-season game. Pittsburgh needed more than just a win to challenge the Cardinals for the NL Central. But it didn't matter, because they lost to the Reds. And while Cole got the no-decision, some say the Pirates wasted his services. So instead, they'll go with Edinson Volquez, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Volquez enters the game hot as a pistol. He finished the regular season with a 1.78 ERA in his final 12 starts. On the other side though is lefty Madison Bumgarner. He's 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. He was my preseason pick to win the NL Cy Young, and while he won't beat out Clayton Kershaw for that award, Bumgarner is someone you shouldn't bet against, even on the road, where he is 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts this year.

--Detroit Tigers over Baltimore Orioles
How about those Orioles? In my preseason predictions, I said, "A rock-solid Baltimore Orioles club will wish they were in a different division." So I did give them credit. I just didn't see them winning 96 games. And sure, Nelson Cruz' 40 home runs are nice. But if Baltimore wants to do damage in the postseason, they'll need some dominant pitching. And it's not that I don't think the Orioles' rotation can be dominant, it's just that I've seen the Tigers' rotation actually do it in the playoffs. Detroit would like to see their top-dog starters pick up their game when it matters most, and I think they will. I feel like nobody is talking about Detroit. Perhaps that will help them. And oh yeah, David Price is pitching for a new contract.

--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Angels
The Angels finished with the most wins in the majors, with 98, but they saw one of their best pitchers go down with a terrible knee injury in late August. Garrett Richards was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA before he tore his left patellar tendon. That will turn out to be a tough loss in a series against the most stacked rotation in baseball. Sonny Gray had his coming out party in last year's playoffs. And now, he's joined by a rejuvenated Scott Kazmir, Lester, and Samardzija. I'm a firm believer that dominant starting rotations win championships, even if Mike Trout is on the other side. If Kansas City somehow beats Oakland in the Wild Card game, then obviously the Angels will advance to the ALCS, but I don't see that happening. I expect the A's to make some serious noise.

--Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals
If I felt comfortable about Michael Wacha's shoulder, I would be sticking to my guns and would have them still advancing to the World Series. But as good as Adam Wainwright is, and as much as I respect John Lackey as a big-game pitcher, they'll need Wacha to be the stud he's supposed to be. And with shoulder problems this season, I don't feel comfortable sticking with them, especially against Kershaw and the Dodgers. Kershaw is simply on another planet this year. I have to go with LA.

--Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants
After Bumgarner, I'm not sure how much I trust the Giants' rotation. On top of that, I feel strongly about Stephen Strasburg having his postseason coming out party. That Nationals also have Doug Fister, who finished the regular season 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA that ranked fourth-best in the National League. Fister has a 2.98 postseason ERA in seven postseason starts, all with the Detroit Tigers. I'm going with the Nats.

--Oakland Athletics over Detroit Tigers
In a rematch from last year's ALDS, the A's will get their revenge, thanks to jacked up rotation. I realize that all of this success I predict for Oakland relies on the fact that they win the Wild Card game, but if they do, I believe their top-four starters will dazzle all the way through to the World Series.

--Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals
Again, kind of tough for anyone to bet against Clayton Kershaw at this point. This one will go seven games, but I expect the Dodgers to have Kershaw in Games 3 and 7. Kershaw was 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA against the Nats this year. Take it to the bank. Dodgers in 7.

--Oakland Athletics over Los Angeles Dodgers
Let's just say that the Royals end up beating the A's in the Wild Card game. If that happens, I would choose the Dodgers to beat anyone else in the American League. But, I think Oakland will get past Kansas City, and then will use their dominant rotation to power through to the Fall Classic. And it's there that they'll continue to prove my theory true: dominant pitching wins championships. Oakland in 6. Sonny Gray the MVP.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

2014 NFL Predictions

Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks certainly have enough talent to repeat as Super Bowl champions, however, there will certainly be a few hungry teams in their way

The 2014 NFL season promises to provide plenty of interesting storylines. Heck, even in the preseason, we already have plenty of noise throughout the league that's kept football atop the headlines, even as baseball's playoff races begin to heat up.

But let's get something out of the way right now. Here in New England, we're spoiled. We know that our team will once again be a contender for the Lombardi Trophy. We know this because Tom Brady is the quarterback, because Bill Belichick is the coach, and because Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL.

It's a league in which winners are built on star quarterbacks and shutdown defensive backs. I know what you're thinking after reading that statement: "But the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year with Russell Wilson as their QB."

Perhaps you don't consider WIlson a star quarterback like I do. That's fine. We disagree on that then. But nobody can disagree with the fact that the Seahawks had the most physical secondary in the league.

And the defending Super Bowl champs will most certainly have a chance to repeat this year. But to play spoiler with you for a minute, I'm not going to put my money on that to happen.

Here are my official 2014 NFL Predictions:


AFC EAST: New England Patriots
-I actually think the Miami Dolphins should be taken seriously this year. But at the same time, the Pats will win 12 games again. Ultimately, the Dolphins' 10 wins won't be enough to overcome the kings of the AFC East. Expect the Patriots to be dominant on both sides of the ball. Brady is playing with a little extra motivation this year. Might as well give him the regular-season MVP trophy now.

AFC NORTH: Baltimore Ravens
-My reasoning for this pick will be controversial, mainly because every time we see Ray Rice run the football, we'll be reminded of the fact that he knocked out his girlfriend in an elevator and is only facing a two-game suspension for it. Well, as brutal as that is, when Rice returns, expect him to bounce back from his worst pro season -- as an established NFL running back -- in 2013. Rice is only 27. Last year he ran for 660 yards in 15 games, marking the first time he didn't rush for 1,000 yards since his rookie season in 2008. fantasy football know-it-alls can study their draft rankings all they want, but when Rice returns from his suspension, he's still young enough and talented enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs.

AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis Colts
-Andrew Luck got a taste of the postseason last year, but unfortunately for him, he ran into the Patriots in the Divisional Round. The Colts should win the division again, and it might only take 10 wins to do so. The Houston Texans will improve on their 2-14 record in 2013, but even after trading for Ryan Mallett, they still won't have a good enough passing attack to grab a Wild Card spot. Expect the Luck-to-Reggie-Wayne connection to steal the AFC South's headlines all year.

AFC WEST: Denver Broncos
-It won't be a walk in the park, but do you really expect the Broncos to not win the division? Kansas City had 11 wins last year, and I think the Chiefs are good for at least 10 wins this season. And San Diego seems to always find itself in the Wild Card hunt. This division had three playoff teams in 2013. That could very well be the case once again in 2014. But there's no way that either of those two teams will knock off the Broncos.

-Kansas City Chiefs
-Cincinnati Bengals

NFC EAST: New York Giants
-This would be the moment in which I pick the G-Men to bounce back from their 7-9 record last season. It's funny, all that talk about Eli Manning being "elite" not too long ago, and here we are with a New York Giants team that's missed the playoffs the last two seasons. Of course, that comes after they won a Super Bowl three years ago, but still. The Eagles won 10 games last year, and he obsession with Chip Kelly's offense will make them the popular pick to once again win the East. But I do think Eli is much better than the 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions that he threw last season. At least, I expect him to be good enough to get the Giants back to the top of the division this year.

NFC NORTH: Green Bay Packers
-It's kind of crazy to think that the Packers won the division last year with only eight wins. An injured Aaron Rodgers missed most of the second half, but returned for the last regular season game and the playoffs. If Rodgers can stay healthy for the entire season, the Packers will be one of the best teams in the NFC, if not the entire NFL.

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans Saints
-Had Cam Newton not suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs during the preseason, my pick here would be the Carolina Panthers. But if I can't put my money on Newton's health now, I can't put my money on the Panthers. So I'll go with the Saints, who lost to the Seahawks in the Divisional ROund last year. Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards his last three seasons, and I don't expect him to fall off in 2014. Expect New Orleans to make some serious noise.

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks
-As long as Seattle remains the toughest place to play in professional sports, then the Seahawks are my pick here. And remember how I feel about Russell Wilson. I believe he's one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. The kid is only 25 years old, and entering his third season, he's only getting better. Strong arm, accurate when throwing on the run, and as smart as they come, Wilson is the real deal, even if your fantasy football draft guide doesn't say so. The San Francisco 49ers obviously get a serious look here, but at the end of the day, I don't see the Seahawks taking a step back in the 2014 regular season.

-San Francisco 49ers
-Atlanta Falcons 


-Indianapolis Colts over Cincinnati Bengals
-Baltimore Ravens over Kansas City Chiefs

-New Orleans Saints over Atlanta Falcons
-San Francisco 49ers over New York Giants

-New England Patriots over Baltimore Ravens
-Denver Broncos over Indianapolis Colts

-Green Bay Packers over San Francisco 49ers
-Seattle Seahawks over New Orleans Saints

-New England Patriots over Denver Broncos

-Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks

-New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers

See you in Arizona.


Monday, August 25, 2014

In-studio with Edelman and Jones

I filled in as host of the WEEI 93.7 FM mid-day show on Monday, and both Julian Edelman and Chandler Jones stopped by our Gillette Stadium studio to talk with me and former Patriot Christian Fauria

Listen to our conversation with Edelman.
-When asked about this year's preseason, Edelman said: "I mean, yeah, it's probably the most confident I've ever been."
-He also discussed Tom Brady's motivation this season, even off the field: "We'll be playing a cornhole game in the locker room, and this guy is trying to win and is the most competitive guy over a gentleman's bet. That's Tom. He wants to go out and he wants to do the best he can every time. That's what a leader does. It becomes contagious, and it makes other guys want to do the same thing."

Listen to our conversation with Chandler Jones.
-Jones acknowledged that he wants to increase his sack total in 2014. But we tried to get an exact number out of him.

You can also go to to hear our "Three For All" segment, in which we discuss the VMA's Mustard-drinking, and shots intended for Justin Bieber.

Friday, August 01, 2014

What just happened?

Not even a full calendar year after leading the Red Sox to a World Series championship, Jon Lester and John Lackey were both shipped out of town before Thursday's trade deadline

On Friday's podcast, I reacted to all of Boston's moves, and dissected Ben Cherington's press conference comments about the team's attempted contract discussions with Lester.

Put it this way, I'm not exactly taking Lester's side.

Subscribe on iTunes, or listen below:

Listen to "I'm Just Sayin" every weekday by subscribing on iTunes (refresh in iTunes to download latest podcast).


Thursday, July 31, 2014

So long, Jon

Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes were traded to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes on Thursday, landing Boston a power-hitting outfielder, but making the A's a Major League powerhouse

In a vacuum, adding Cespedes to the middle of your lineup is a special acquisition. But if it means not coming to terms with your ace, then perhaps it shouldn't be celebrated.

The Red Sox traded away their ace in Lester, and while adding a damn good player, it confirms the harsh reality that Lester and the Sox just couldn't agree on a contract extension.

Don't get me wrong, I like Cespedes. But I would have preferred to re-sign Lester.

Some think that will still be possible this offseason. I think it's too good to be true.

On Thursday's podcast, I reacted to the Lester trade, as well as applauding Gomes for succeeding in a role that's tough to find.

(Note: Thursday's podcast was recorded before John Lackey was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals)

Subscribe on iTunes, or listen below:

Listen to "I'm Just Sayin" every weekday by subscribing on iTunes (refresh in iTunes to download latest podcast).


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hometown discount?

It seems like it was just yesterday that Jon Lester publicly announced his willingness to "leave money on the table" in order to stay in Boston, but with a trade now seemingly inevitable, one has to wonder just how much the Red Sox' ace was actually asking for

If Lester is traded before Thursday's July 31 deadline, then make no mistake about it, Red Sox ownership will take some serious heat.

In fact, they're already taking it.

But to be fair, as of Wednesday morning, we don't actually know any of the final numbers that were thrown around in the negotiation room . . . from either side.

All this talk about the Red Sox "not willing to match the market value for Lester" doesn't hold much weight to me, when, not too long ago, Lester publicly -- and almost emphatically -- said he would take less than his market value.

So what changed? And could Lester be getting off easy?

I discussed on Wednesday's podcast, and Providence Journal Red Sox beat writer Brian MacPherson joined me.

Subscribe on iTunes, or listen below:

Listen to "I'm Just Sayin" every weekday by subscribing on iTunes (refresh in iTunes to download latest podcast).


Monday, July 28, 2014

Trade Lester?

The closer we get to Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline, the more Jon Lester trade rumors we are going to hear, but now that the Red Sox have officially given up on 2014, there's no reason to "table" contract talks any longer

On Monday's podcast, I reacted to some of the Lester trade rumors while staying confident that there's still time to get an extension done to keep him in Boston.

Comcast SportsNet's Mike Giardi joined the show to talk Red Sox, as well as New England Patriots training camp.

Plus, my reaction to Joe Torre forgetting to thank George Steinbrenner in his 28-minute MLB Hall-of-Fame induction speech.

Subscribe on iTunes, or listen below:

Listen to "I'm Just Sayin" every weekday by subscribing on iTunes (refresh in iTunes to download latest podcast).


Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's over

The Red Sox returned from the All-Star break to sweep the Kansas City Royals, but then collapsed against divisional rivals, essentially crushing any hope for a playoff appearance

On WEEI 93.7 FM Saturday, I finally gave up on the 2014 Boston Red Sox. Listen here.

Also, Barstool Sports' Jerry Thornton joined me in-studio and we looked back at the first few days of New England Patriots training camp. Listen here.